How to Clean Wood Furniture to Make It Look New

All of the steps and supplies for the best way to clean wooden furniture and get rid of musty smells in old furniture. 

There is nothing better than finding a diamond in the rough vintage piece of furniture that would shine with a small amount of love. Whether you have scored a secondhand coffee table or need help bringing your own solid wood furniture back to life, this tutorial will make your old wood furniture come to life again. 

wood chest of drawers before

I found a dark walnut wood dresser and nightstand on Facebook Marketplace recently, and I actually did not paint it! Gasp! (Who the heck am I anymore?)

cleaned wood furniture in a girl's room

My daughter’s old laminate dresser, while I loved the color, just wasn’t giving me the rich nostalgic warmth I really wanted in her vintage inspired bedroom. So by cleaning the dull wood surface, it’s added so much depth while giving me peace of mind that its safe for our 3 year-old.

Here is the best method to give your wood furniture piece a deep cleaning.

wood chest of drawers after cleaning with chinoiserie lamp

Why Wood Furniture is Making a Trend Comeback

Traditional furniture styles are big time trending on the interior design scene lately, and with the nod to cottagecore style in this bedroom, it felt like the perfect opportunity to get back to the bare wood furniture roots to give that old wood a lustrous shine.

Over the past decade, farmhouse style was all about distressed chalk painted pieces or worn, weathered reclaimed wood. 

Every action has an equal but opposite reaction, even in interior design. So of course, as time always tells with the ebb and flow of what’s “in style”, the answer to the farmhouse craze is the rich, lustrous furniture in the traditional aesthetic.

wood nightstand before
wood nightstand after cleaning between two beds

How to Clean Wood Furniture

I love scoring furniture on Facebook Marketplace, but since they usually have decades of surface scratches, cleaning products, furniture wax, and polish buildup creating a sticky residue on them, I used this method to make ours look new again.

Wood Furniture Cleaner Supplies

*For best results, the first step before starting is to test an inconspicuous area with each of the above wood cleaner products with a cotton ball to make sure it does not damage your type of wood. Not all furniture pieces are alike. 

Steps

  1. Clean with Oil Soap

    In a well-ventilated area, mix 1/2 Cup Murphy’s Oil Soap into a gallon of warm water.

    Using a clean soft cloth, wipe down the entire piece of furniture with the soapy mixture while wearing protective gloves. Pay special attention to crevices and small details.

    Then, using a dry cloth or paper towel, wipe away any soapy residue of the cleaning solution from the entire surface with clean water. Immediately dry off any excess water.

    You can also use dish soap or an all purpose cleaner like Simple Green, but Murphy’s Oil Soap works better at removing musty smells from wooden furniture because it contains citronella oil.

    For very stubborn smells, put the furniture in direct sunlight for an hour or so. Avoid direct sunlight for a long time though as it can fade wood finishes.

    After cleaning, if you’re still left with some stubborn stains or sticky spots, the best option for an even deeper cleaning is to use a damp microfiber cloth with mineral spirits to lightly rub the area for a few minutes.

    Don’t be alarmed if the spot looks dull after apply mineral spirits. Wood oil will help in the next few steps.

  2. Remove Water Spots

    To rehydrate the wood from any water stains or damage such as a water ring, rub a moderate layer of Vaseline or mayonnaise on top with a lint-free cloth.

    Let it sit overnight up to 24 hours.

    Wipe clean to reveal a more even wood tone on the furniture’s surface. Repeat if necessary. The top of this wooden table had terrible water damage, but Vaseline greatly improved it.

  3. Clean Vaseline residue

    Use the Murphy’s Oil Soap again to clean off any Vaseline residue so the polish can penetrate in the next step. 

  4. Polish

    Using a soft cotton cloth, wipe down the surface of wood furniture in circular motions with Old English Wood Furniture Polish or Howard Restore-A-Finish. (Howard is preferred, but since my hardware store was out, Old English was a good alternative.)

    You can also use linseed oil.

    Concentrate on any scratches or dings to ensure they’re covered. The mineral oil will begin to recondition wooden surfaces to give it a nice shine.

    After 2-3 minutes, wipe away any excess moisture.

  5. Scrub Hardware

    If you have any hardware on your furniture that looks a little grimy, you can scrub it with Barkeepers Friend and an old toothbrush with a little warm water.

    Non-gel toothpaste or white vinegar can also work well on hardware.

    Rinse and let dry. Then reattach to your wood furniture. 

    Related: Best Places to Find Furniture Hardware

It’s a good idea to follow these simple steps every couple of years for a regular cleaning to keep your furniture in good condition. Give it a regular dusting as well. 

The Finished Wood Furniture

It looks like a brand new dresser, doesn’t it?! And it really wasn’t too strenuous to clean and polish. (I’d say the strenuous part was really Robert and me hauling this hefty chest of drawers up our staircase.) 

Doesn’t Regan’s room look so charming with these two pieces? I can’t get over how much better it looks after this cleaning method. 

clean wood furniture in a little girl bedroom
clean wood furniture in a little girl bedroom
how to clean wood furniture like this nightstand

Long live the wood furniture! Maybe I’ll even get up the nerve to strip painted furniture again… though I think I’m still recovering from a few bad incidents with a wooden dining table and chairs all these years later. 

Are you all for traditional and wood furniture again? Or still Team Painted Furniture? Neither is wrong really. Do what your soul loves and decorate with what makes you happy. That’s what really matters. 

The me 5 years ago would have slapped distressed chalk paint on these two wood furniture beauties in a heartbeat. But that wood grain deserves the spotlight for sure.

wood furniture cleaning in a girl's bedroom
wood nightstand between two twin beds in a little girl bedroom

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get musty smell out of drawers?

These charcoal bags work wonders for all kinds of icky furniture smells. Place one in a drawer for a few days and let it do the work for you. You can also try sprinkling baking soda in a drawer along with a few dryer sheets.

What is an alternative wood furniture cleaner?

Mix 4 parts water with 1 part vinegar and one part olive oil in a spray bottle and spritz all over your wood furniture. Dry with a clean cloth.

More Furniture Makeover Tips

How to Restore Worn Cane Furniture

how to restore worn cane furniture

The Trick to Paint Laminate IKEA Furniture

painted laminate ikea dresser

Best Places to Buy Furniture Hardware

furniture hardware knobs on a bathroom vanity
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63 Comments

  1. As a retired interior designer, I am glad to see that you did the right thing by your furniture. Often times, the piece just needs some extra care like you did here. These pieces are too good and in such good shape that they are not ready to paint at this time. You would have destroyed any value left in quality pieces. I do have a suggestion about restoring stinky furniture. I have a cousin who used to restore furniture and now custom builds furniture. I had a family heirloom piece that had been in a storage locker far too long and stunk to high Heaven like mildew and mold. I tried the usual ways to get the smell out; but had no success. Finally, my cousin reminded me that real wooden furniture (not particle board) is stronger than I thought & that he used to dip antiques in vats of stripper with no problems. That gave me the courage to use powdered oxygen bleach. I waited for a warm, sunny day and used a stiff bristled brush to apply and scrub with the watery oxygen bleach. I was stunned to see some of the black spots literally jump off the inside of the cabinet. I quickly rinsed the piece well and then towel dried as much as I could before setting the piece in the sun to finish drying. It is no exaggeration to say that the piece now smells like new wood in the lumber yard. I was sure to cover every surface when I applied fresh stain and a finish so that it is protected for the future. On another note, slight scorch marks can be removed with a paste of water & Bar Keeper’s Friend powder. Just lightly sand smooth, apply only on the scorch mark and remove quickly to avoid over bleaching. Reapply if still needed; but be quick rather than slow.

  2. I have owned a bottle of the Old English you used for over 20 years and it still comes in handy! Just used it last week to cover up a deep scratch in the hardwood floor. Also, I’ve used the Restore and it works well. Never heard of the vaseline trick so will tuck that away for a future find. I’ve been on Marketplace a great deal looking for 2 nightstands but I’ve yet to find what I need. On with the hunt! And I love the peacock lamp you added to the bedroom with the floral/bird wallpaper…striking!

  3. Bravo! This looks gorgeous! I have inherited furniture like this and I had no idea it could look so good. The wood furniture looks so beautiful against your pretty wallpaper and the bright white wall. Love it all.

  4. I love the rich look of vintage furniture! I have several pieces that could use a little TLC and you’ve inspired me. And how is your baby three years old? Her room is so beautiful and timeless. And that lamp on the nightstand is darling!